Wounded but not dead: Hobbling UST wrestles with injuries

Myke Miravite
Once considered contenders, the UST Tigers have been derailed by injuries.

DOWN ONCE MORE. Teng injured his hamstring in his first game back from a shoulder injury. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

MANILA, Philippines — With all the injuries that struck them this year, University of Santo Tomas head coach Pido Jarencio and his boys will need a miracle of sorts if they plan to return to the Finals in Season 76.

Finally snapping out of a three-game skid at the expense of Adamson University on Wednesday, August 28, Jarencio, who brought the Growling Tigers to a Finals date with Ateneo de Manila University last year, admitted that this season has been far from pretty as far as the Espana crew is concerned.

“Talagang disappointing year ito dahil sa injuries,” he told the press shortly after UST’s 80-67 win over the Season 76 hosts. “Mahirap ang sitwasyon namin ngayon. Sana makatsamba at pumasok pa ng Final Four.”

Good bye Final Four?

UST — after surprising many in Season 75 by entering the Final Four and eventually making an appearance in the last dance — entered this year’s competition as contenders. But one by one, their players were struck down by injuries that saw their return to the championships slip little by little as the season progresses.

“Biglang bumagsak ang team namin this year, puro injuries. Sabi ko sa players ko, ‘habang nakikita nila na meron kayong diperensiya, nakikita nila na mas magandang target,’” Jarencio said.

At this point of the tournament, the Growling Tigers will need to make drastic moves across the chessboard as 6 of their players are hobbled by injuries and some of them have actually already undergone surgery.

“Si Pipoy Marata, ACL. Nagpa-surgery na. Si [Jon] Macasaet, ACL injury din. Si [Brian] So, sure na MCL na pero ACL di pa sure. Si [Kim] Lo at [Karim] Abdul tinamaan ang balikat, ganun din si [Jeric] Teng,” Jarencio enumerated of his team’s injury list.

“Ang sasarap ng kinakain niyo ang hihina ng katawan niyo, hindi kagaya ng araw ang tibay ng katawan namin nun. Ang pilay ko lang ngayon ay arthritis ko,” Jarencio, who was known for his lethal 3-point sniping during his PBA days, quipped.

NO ONE SPARED. Even Mariano suffered from a sprained ankle. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Big, crucial blows for UST

In their 13-point win against the Soaring Falcons, Abdul put in a monster double-double performance as he scored 19 points and 12 rebounds. At one point of the game however, the UST faithful were stunned for a moment as the Cameroonian writhed in pain on the floor, resulting in an Ingrid Sewa dunk at the opposite side of the court. He remained there for almost a minute, with agony etched on his face.

At the ensuing deadball, Jarencio rushed down to his big man and shouted something at Abdul while helping him find his footing once more. A couple of minutes later, Abdul came back to the game and powered UST back to .500.

“Sabi ko kay Abdul, ‘strong boy ka, wala ‘yan, hindi masakit yan’,” Jarencio recounted. “Sa awa ng Diyos, nakapaglaro pa naman siya.”

Abdul has been quite solid for UST thus far, posting averages of 14.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg, and 1.3 spg in their first 7 games. In the first round, his solid numbers were among the best in the league from the centers.

For the amiable coach however, Teng’s inujury came as the biggest blow for UST this season.

“Nung nawala si Teng, nawala kami sa huwisyo; nawala ‘yung team, ‘yung composure… lahat. ‘Yung tibay ng team nawala, ‘yung leadership, ganun lang kasimple.”

The 2009 Rookie of the Year started his Season 76 injury woes way back in the first round when he injured his shoulder in a controversial clash with National University’s Jeff Javilionar.

The 6-foot-2 team captain went on to miss the rest of the first round and made his return in late August ironically against the Bulldogs. In his very first game off his shoulder injury, Teng was dealt another blow as he incurred another injury, this time to his hamstring, after chasing Robin Rono on a fastbreak.

Wounded, but not dead

Jarencio, however, still sees a glimmer of hope as they make their last ditch effort to make it back to the post season.

“Ito mabigat na ‘to, last 4 games namin siguro dapat 4 out of 4 ang maipanalo. Kung 3 out of 4, manalangin tayo na may matalo sa Ateneo and UE at La Salle na din siguro,” the long-time UST coach said.

After 10 games, the Growling Tigers currently sit at 6th place at 5-5, only above the Soaring Falcons and the already eliminated University of the Philippines in the standings. Although a Final Four berth is not a far cry for UST, the rest of their Season 76 campaign could hinge on its players’ health, or the lack of it. With the absence of Teng, it’s about time someone steps up to take the leadership role. – Rappler.com

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